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Church suicide prevention

Religious leaders and institutions can play an integral role when it comes to suicide prevention among their congregations and within their whole communities.

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Faith-based leaders are often turned to by individuals in a time of crisis, and a faith-based community can be a protective factor when it comes to suicide risk.

Church leaders can work with individuals to prevent suicidal thoughts and actions while promoting mental health and general wellbeing by helping create, or by creating their own, church suicide prevention plans or frameworks because of the deep connection so many people develop from their faith.

Studies show that people who are thinking of harming themselves often turn to clergy rather than to mental health professionals. Because of that, those in a clergy or faith-based position should know how to handle such a situation and be ready refer the person in danger to the proper resources. It is also important that faith-based leaders embrace prevention measures. With such an endorsement, people may be more likely to seek out additional help.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center notes that trusted faith leaders and counselors are uniquely positioned to help those who seek help from them because they are experienced in being a spiritual guide and helping people find meaning in their lives and a sense of hope, and because they support people who are experiencing life challenges or crises or mourning a death or loss.

It is also important - regardless of a religion’s or church’s general viewpoint on suicide - that its faith leaders and counselors are ready to listen without judging. People experiencing suicidal thought want to be listened and not confronted. Churches can guide the conversation and take active role in suicide prevention by fostering a sense of connection among the community. Encourage church members to reach out to those in your faith-based community dealing with mental health struggles, substance abuse problems or other problems that can be considered risk factors for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Lastly, faith groups should have a response plan in place in case a member dies by suicide. Churches are an especially tight-knit community and such a death is especially devastating to the family and friends of the deceased. Because the event can increase the suicide risk of anyone struggling themselves, be sure to reach out and talk as a community. Do everything you can to decrease the stigma of the suicide and promote healing and acceptance. Also, if there is a memorial to be planned, be aware and sensitive to the family’s wishes when it comes to the service.

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